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Global Health, Medical Education, Surgery

Bringing surgical training to female medical students in Zimbabwe

Bringing surgical training to female medical students in Zimbabwe

IMG_1468Earlier this summer, I shared the story of how two pioneering women are challenging the status quo in Zimbabwe by saying it’s okay for women take up careers in surgery. Now, this professor-student duo – Stanford surgeon Sherry Wren, MD, and surgeon-in-training Annete Bonigwe Moyo – have launched the first surgical skills training for female medical students at the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences.

For a girl growing up in Zimbabwe like Moyo, expressing interest in surgery can be met with ridicule and doubt. But when Moyo met Wren two years ago, Moyo was inspired to change this perception.

She founded DREAM (Dedicated to Reach, Empower And Mentor women in surgery) to empower her female peers and increase participation in the profession. Wren has been a core advisor since the organization’s inception, helping to achieve their mission by providing mentorship and new educational opportunities for the women of DREAM.

“Surgery is a core subject in our medical undergraduate curriculum requiring the acquisition of cognitive diagnostic demands, as well as procedural skills,” Moyo, a senior medical student at the University of Zimbabwe, told me. “However, in spite of the advent of skills laboratories and simulators, undergraduate trainees are barely exposed to the procedural aspect of training. For many graduating medical students in these circumstances, surgery is a far-off thought, and few have the confidence to carry out basic surgical procedures as they go through their internship.”

IMG_1473In an effort to help medical students translate the knowledge gained in the classroom to the operating table, Wren recently facilitated a basic surgical skills training session hosted by DREAM – a first for medical students in Zimbabwe. The training was attended by 21 third, fourth and fifth year MBChB students – all of them women.

Moyo reported to me:

[Wren] began the session by helping the women appreciate standard operating room etiquette and protocol, sterile procedures, sharps and fluid safety, scrubbing, gowning and gloving. For most of the students present, this was the first time they were being walked through these important basic principles of surgery.

Excitement grew as [Wren] began teaching the women some basic surgical sutures on sterile towels… Soon the ladies were ready to apply their newly learned skills on loops of bowel procured to give a more real feel to the exercise. It was amazing to see how quickly what was initially a barely discernible pattern of uneven sutures transformed into neat even sutures…

By the end of the 3-hour session, the timid girl who was clueless as to how to handle the most basic of surgical instruments, or let alone tie a surgical knot, had become a confident future surgeon raring to do whatever it took to realize her dream.

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Global Health, Medical Education

A behind the scenes look at the Stanford-ABC News Fellowship in Media and Global Health

A behind the scenes look at the Stanford-ABC News Fellowship in Media and Global Health

Since arriving at Stanford, third-year medical student Michael Nedelman has pursued his passion for film by producing a number of documentaries, including projects about LGBT veterans experiences of trauma and recovery and health-care access in post-typhoon Philippines. This year, he is embarking on a new journey as the 2015-2016 Stanford-ABC News Global Health Media Fellow where he will explore how multiple media platforms can have a significant impact on global health work.

Nedelman is chronicling his fellowship experience on his blog. Currently, he is working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Delhi as part of team responsible for the organization’s media output for the Southeast Asia region. His first entry focuses on the role of media at the WHO and includes a podcast with Vismita Gupta-Smith, a public information and advocacy officer at the WHO in Southeast Asia. Listen to their full conversation above.

Previously: After Haiyan: Stanford med student makes film about post-typhoon Philippines, Stanford Storytellers: Medical students write a children’s book to comfort and educate and Stanford med student discusses his documentary on LGBT vets’ health

Global Health, HIV/AIDS, Immunology, Research, Stanford News, Women's Health

HIV study in Kenyan women: Diversity in a single immune-cell type flags likelihood of getting infected

HIV study in Kenyan women: Diversity in a single immune-cell type flags likelihood of getting infected

virally infected cellsWhen it comes to immune cells, “it takes all kinds” isn’t too bad a description of what makes for the best composition of our fighting force for warding off viruses, bacteria and incipient tumors. But in a study just published in Science Translational Medicine, Stanford infectious-disease immunologist Catherine Blish, MD, PhD, and her colleagues have found, unexpectedly, that high diversity in the overall population of one particular type of immune cells strongly correlates with an increased likelihood of subsequent infection by HIV.

The investigators had figured that diversity in so-called natural killer cells, or NK cells, would be a strength, not a detriment. “Our hypothesis was wrong,” Blish (much of whose research focuses on NK cells) told me. In this study,  it was higher, rather than lower, diversity in this immune-cell population that turned out to be associated with increased HIV susceptibility.

NK cells, fierce white blood cells that help fight viruses and tumors, harbor various combinations of receptors on their surface. Some receptors recognize signs of our other cells’ normalcy, while others recognize signs that a cell is stressed — due, say, to viral infection or cancerous mutation. On recognizing their targeted features on other cells’ surfaces, an NK cell’s “normalcy” receptors tend to inhibit it, while its stress-recognizing receptors activate it.

All told, NK cells can have many thousands of different combinations of these receptors on their surfaces, with each combination yielding a slightly different overall activation threshold. At birth, our NK cells are pretty similar to one another. But as they acquire life experience – largely from viral exposure, Blish thinks – they increasingly diverge in the specific combinations of receptors they carry on their surfaces.

From my news release on the study:

In order to assess the impact of NK-cell diversity on adult humans’ viral susceptibility, Blish and her associates turned to blood samples that had been drawn during the Mama Salama Study, a longitudinal study of just over 1,300 healthy … Kenyan women. [T]he researchers carried out a precise analysis of NK cells in the women’s blood and observed a strong positive correlation between the diversity of a woman’s NK cell population and her likelihood of becoming infected with HIV.

This correlation held up despite the women’s being statistically indistinguishable with respect to age, marital status, knowledge of sexual partners’ HIV status, history of trading sex for money or goods, sexually transmitted disease status or reported frequency of recent unprotected sex.

And the NK-diversity-dependent difference in these women’s likelihood of HIV infection was huge. From my release:

Those with the most NK-cell diversity were 10 times as likely as those with the least diversity to become infected. A 10-fold risk increase based solely on NK-cell diversity is far from negligible, said Blish. “By way of comparison, having syphilis increases the risk of contracting HIV two- to four-fold, while circumcised men’s HIV risk is reduced by a factor of 2.5 or 3,” she said.

These surprising findings  could spur the development of blood tests capable of predicting individuals’ susceptibility to viral infection.

Previously: Study: Pregnancy causes surprising changes in how the immune system responds to the flu, Revealed: Epic evolutionary struggle between reproduction and immunity to infectious disease and Our aging immune systems are still in business, but increasingly thrown out of balance
Photo by NIAID

Global Health, Health Policy, Stanford News

Stanford India Health Policy Initiative fellows are in Mumbai – come follow along

Stanford India Health Policy Initiative fellows are in Mumbai - come follow along

India Health Policy students

Today, I’m on my way to India to join the 2015 Stanford India Health Policy Initiative fellows. These fellows are part of a program that designs and conducts collaborative student projects focused on generating new, on-the-ground insight into the factors that distinguish health-delivery success and failure. This summer, the four fellows are Mark Walsh, a rising senior who is majoring in economics; Pooja Makhijani, a second-year medical student; and Lina Vadlamani and Hadley Reid, both rising seniors who are majoring in human biology.

The students are spending seven weeks investigating the pharmaceutical networks in urban Mumbai in an effort to understand how informal providers interface with these networks and whether it impacts how providers practice, prescribe and dispense medication. The fellows are traveling house to house to investigate community preferences for medications.

We’ll be updating this Storify page with stories on their time there, and we’ll be tweeting from @StanfordHP (and using the hashtag#StanfordHealthIndia) over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll follow along.

Beth Duff-Brown is communications manager for the Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary and Outcomes Research (CHP/PCOR).

Photo, of Walsh, Makhijani and Vadlamani, courtesy of CHP/PCOR

Events, Global Health, Haiti, Medicine and Literature, Patient Care, Stanford News

Physician writers share a “global perspective on healing”

Physician writers share a "global perspective on healing"

6319607736_156bcef31e_zWhen I saw that an event called “Medicine Around the World: Healing from a Global Perspective” was taking place on campus, I thought it would be right up my alley as a medical anthropologist.

The event, sponsored by Stanford’s Medicine and the Muse program and the Pegasus Physician Writers group, was a reading in which physicians shared some beautiful pieces they had written about their experiences providing medical services across the globe, including Haiti, Mexico, Austria, and Vietnam. The musings were less about culture than they were about poverty, conflict, disasters, and war, and what it’s like to seek health and healing in such overwhelming circumstances.

All five physicians’ writings brought to life a difficult scene. Julia Huemer, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, wrote an aching piece about interviewing a young Somalian refugee in an Austrian winter just before Christmas. She conveys the utter incapacity of her survey to capture his experience, and an uneasy awareness that he is the one doing her a favor, indulging her intrusion. Here is a teenager too childlike to carry the weight of adulthood, yet who carries it with more grounded grace than many adults. Her holiday, once marked by stressful emptiness, is not transformed in any heartwarming sense, but at least becomes more heavy, more real.

Ali Tahvildari, MD, a radiologist, composed a “Ghazal for Global Health,” a poetic form used to convey love, loss, and longing, in this case pleading for the privileged to care about foreign suffering. Mali Mann, MD, a psychiatrist, chronicled her experience being one of “los medicos volodores” who fly to Mexico, where she works with orphaned children suffering severe emotional traumas. Henry Ward Trueblood, MD, a trauma surgeon, read an excerpt from his forthcoming book about being a surgeon in Vietnam during the war, where he worked in a tragically understaffed civilian hospital. The extreme environment pushed him to test the limits of his surgical competence, which both challenged him to grow and taught him to respect his own limits when he was way out of his league.

The piece that brought in the most “culture” in a classic anthropological sense was that of William Meffert, MD, a cardiovascular surgeon who read a fictional account of being trapped in a collapsed building in Haiti while on a medical mission after the earthquake. In it, he grappled with how religion – a Haitian mix of voodoo and Catholicism – played a vital role in the life of his assistant. As an atheist, the protagonist vacillated between being baffled, annoyed, and comforted in a way he couldn’t quite grasp; in a way that circled between dream and reality, the supernatural was a means toward healing.

Previously: Stanford doctor-author bring historic figure Jonas Salk to life, Stanford med student chronicles his experiences working in rural Kenya, Surgeon-author: “My intent is to let people know that the person next door could be intersex”, “Write what you know”: Anesthesiologist-author Rick Novak discusses his debut novel, For a group of Stanford doctors, writing helps them “make sense” of their experiences, and Exploring global health through historical literature
Photo by Hanna Sorensson

Global Health, Health Policy, Research, Stanford News

Health aid may be allocated efficiently, but not always optimally

Health aid may be allocated efficiently, but not always optimally

malaria bed net

Foreign aid to the public-health sectors of developing countries often appears to be allocated backwards: The global burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes or heart disease is enormous – yet these disorders receive little health aid.

By comparison, the global burden of HIV is much smaller, yet it receives more health aid than any other single disease.

An alignment in health aid could best be improved by focusing on malaria and TB, especially where addressing those diseases is highly cost effective

So will a wholesale reversal in health aid priorities improve global health? The answer, according to a new study by Stanford researchers, is that if the goal is to maximize the health benefits from each donor dollar, health aid is actually allocated pretty well.

Still, reallocating foreign aid to step up the fight against malaria and tuberculosis (TB) could lead to greater overall health improvements in developing nations. And it could be done without spending more money, the researchers show.

For their work, Eran Bendavid, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and a core faculty member at the Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, and three researchers focused on 20 countries that received the greatest total amount of aid between 2008 and 2011, a period of historically unprecedented growth in health aid. The 20 countries – from Afghanistan to Zambia – received $58 billion out of the $103.2 billion in recorded health aid disbursements to 170 countries between 2001 and 2011.

“What we found, somewhat to our surprise, is that in nearly all countries, more aid was flowing to finance priorities with more cost-effective options,” Bendavid, said in an interview. “That is partly because more aid was flowing to the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria, and their management can be relatively inexpensive.”

Bendavid, an infectious disease physician, added: “Even though the burden of non-communicable diseases is high and growing, addressing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease is, broadly, more costly than the unfinished infectious disease agenda.”

In their paper, Bendavid and his co-authors write that the “data suggest that [an alignment in health aid] could best be improved by focusing on malaria and TB, especially where addressing those diseases is highly cost effective.” Gains would come from taking some aid earmarked for HIV or maternal, newborn or child health, and putting it toward programs to treat these two disorders, they say.

But it’s also crucial, they conclude, to further study the consequences of realignment of donor funds.

This paper appears in the July issue of Health Affairs.

Beth Duff-Brown is communications manager for the Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary and Outcomes Research.

Previously: Foreign health care aid delivers the goods and Foreign aid for health extends life, saves children, Stanford study finds
Photo, of a mother and son under an insecticide-treated bed net in Tanzania, by the Gates Foundation

Global Health, HIV/AIDS, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Stanford med student chronicles his experience working in rural Kenya

Stanford med student chronicles his experience working in rural Kenya

Hodgkinson and others in Kenya

Growing up in Kakamega, a rural county in western Kenya, medical technologies and services were extremely limited for Luqman Hodgkinson, PhD. Now a first-year Stanford medical student, Hodgkinson is spending the summer months back in his hometown conducting research and chronicling exciting new developments in medical education – the opening of the first medical school in the region.

With a population of nearly two million, Kakamega is the second largest county in Kenya behind only Nairobi. But with only 12 physician specialists, the vast majority of residents don’t have access to advanced care.

Earlier this year, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), a leading public university in Kenya, received authorization to become the very first medical school in Kakamega; it’s expected to enroll its first class of students this fall.

Hodgkinson has received a faculty position as an adjunct associate researcher at the new MMUST School of Medicine and will serve as the designated ambassador from MMUST to Stanford.

As Hodgkinson writes in his first blog entry en route to Kakamega, “Relationships are very important in medicine and this is also true for a medical school that is at the beginning of a bright future.”

His first research project in Kakamega focuses on the efficacy of community outreach programs designed to improve adherence to antiretroviral medications among adults with HIV/AIDS. Under the mentorship of Michele Barry, MD, FACP, senior associate dean for global health at Stanford, Hodgkinson is working with Emusanda Health Centre to evaluate the efficacy of these programs and demographic factors that may impact medication adherence.

He writes in his blog: “Medical research of all kinds is greatly needed in Kakamega to advance the health of the community, particularly in the area of HIV. In Kakamega County, the HIV prevalence is 5.6 percent. Addressing the local HIV pandemic is what inspired me many years ago to pursue medicine and now for the first time I am on my way to join this endeavor.”

Hodgkinson will be blogging from Kakamega throughout the summer, sharing updates from his research activities and collaborative opportunities for members of the Stanford community to get involved with the new MMUST School of Medicine. Follow along on the Center for Innovation in Global Health website.

Rachel Leslie is the communications officer at Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Photo – of (left to right) clinician Jorcelyne Makori, peer educator James Okwiri and Hodgkinson – courtesy of Hodgkinson

Chronic Disease, Global Health, Health Policy, Public Health, Research, Stanford News

Finding the sweet spot in public health law to regulate sugary drinks

Finding the sweet spot in public health law to regulate sugary drinks

lemonade-155663_1280Two Stanford public health law experts say one of the biggest culprits of the obesity epidemic – on top of fast foods and sedentary lifestyles – is sugary drinks. And they believe the sweet spot for public health law in curbing the adverse effects of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) lies in the strategic use of measures such as higher SSB taxes, limits on advertisements targeting kids, and restrictions on soft drinks and sugar-sweetened teas and sports drinks in government institutions, such as public schools.

“Enough is already known about the promise of some legal interventions to curb SSB consumption – significant tax hikes and advertising restrictions are two good examples – to be fairly confident that they would make a difference,” says David Studdert, MD, a professor in the medical and law schools and a core faculty member at the Center for Health Policy/Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research.

Studdert is the lead author of a review paper, “Searching for Public Health Law’s Sweet Spot: The Regulation of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages,” which was published today in PLoS Medicine.

Studdert and senior author Michelle Mello, MD, also a professor in the medical and law schools, and co-author Jordan Flanders, a former Stanford Law School student, argue that sugary drinks are a substantial, yet preventable contributor to the global burden of obesity and associated health conditions.

A recent study in the journal Circulation linked the consumption of sugary drinks to an estimated 184,000 adult deaths each year, with more than 25,000 of those Americans. While Americans’ consumption of sugary drinks has plateaued, according to the research, about three-fourths of the deaths due to SSBs are now in developing countries. Mexico leads with 24,000 total deaths. The United States still ranks fourth, however, just behind South Africa and Morocco.

The Stanford researchers say the evidence shows that sugary drinks are contributors to the global obesity epidemic, but the appropriate reach of regulation to curtail SSB consumptions remains highly contested.

“Finding public health law’s sweet spot requires regulatory approaches that are capable both of achieving measurable improvements to public health and of winning victories in courts of law and public opinion,” they wrote.

That’s often difficult.

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Emergency Medicine, Ethics, Global Health, Medicine and Society, Patient Care

After Haiyan: Stanford med student makes film about post-typhoon Philippines

After Haiyan: Stanford med student makes film about post-typhoon Philippines

Multi-talented Stanford Medicine student Michael Nedelman has been featured on Scope before for his filmmaking and storytelling abilities. His new film, “After Haiyan: Health narratives in the aftermath of the typhoon,” is a series of vignettes about the November 2013 disaster in the Philippines. The film, which will be released soon, connects socioeconomic and structural issues of access to health in times of crisis.

It was filmed primarily in Tacloban, Leyte, in July and August of 2014, and Nedelman made a follow-up visit in November and December to premiere and promote the project. Despite his busy end-of-school-year schedule, Nedelman answered some questions for me about his work in a recent email exchange.

What was it like filming in the wake of a tragedy? 

Phil Delrosario said it best. He’s the cinematographer and editor I met here at Stanford. Knowing when to turn on the camera was a “huge balancing act” between our drive to document the truth, and our obligation to be compassionate storytellers. We couldn’t ignore the emotional weight of Typhoon Haiyan, and we couldn’t ignore the fact that we weren’t part of the communities we were documenting. So we sought out people who not only wanted to share their stories with us, but who could also provide some insight as to how they wanted those stories to be seen… For one of the videos, Deaf advocates like Noemi Pamintuan-Jara reached out to us first, not the other way around… That was really special for us, to be able to work alongside a community that has been promoting Deaf accessibility and culture long before we ever arrived on the scene. And we had these new partners who could give meaningful feedback on our filmmaking decisions.

Filming in the wake of a tragedy doesn’t mean everything is tragic. The shadow of Haiyan is still there, but there’s also a sense of living in the moment and moving forward. All over the city, you’ll see posters and graffiti that say, “Tindog Tacloban!” (“Rise Tacloban!”) That’s something that really resonated with our team and the ethos of our project. You can’t tell the full story of Tacloban without optimism and resilience.

How does this film link storytelling and health, and what is special about that for you?

When I was first discussing the project with one of the producers, Roxanne Paredes, we asked ourselves a similar question: How would our project add to or nuance the coverage of the typhoon? Right after the storm, Haiyan was all over the news. Tacloban was in survival mode. But months later, after many of those cameras had left, there was a different set of long-term challenges and a focus on recovery. Those were the issues we wanted to explore, which tend to be less covered by the media but still have profound implications for community health and future disaster preparedness. In short, just because the cameras stopped rolling doesn’t mean there weren’t more stories to tell. That really broadened the way in which I think of health stories.

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Global Health, HIV/AIDS, Infectious Disease, Public Health, Research, Rural Health

Drought causes spike in HIV infections in Africa

Drought causes spike in HIV infections in Africa

75148497_50e081cd5b_zHere in California, the drought is plenty serious. Shortages mean short showers, brown lawns, empty reservoirs and fallow fields.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, drought spreads disease, including the still-rampant HIV virus. The phenomenon is more sociological than ecological: Slim harvests slash farmers’ incomes, forcing them to find new ways to earn money. Some turn to sex, according to a new study in The Economic Journal.

As described in a recent article from Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE):

Analyzing data on more than 200,000 individuals across 19 African countries, the research team finds that by changing sexual behavior, a year of very low rainfall can increase local infection rates by more than 10 percent.

That means condoms and sex education aren’t all that’s needed to thwart the epidemic’s spread, the study’s authors say. Affected farmers also need economic support and alternatives to help them weather the dry period, without sacrificing their health.

“These are the people who really suffer when the rains fail, and who are forced to turn to more desperate measures to make ends meet,” co-author Marshall Burke, PhD, a fellow at the FSE, said in the piece.

Previously: Spread of drug-resistant HIV in Africa and Asia is limited, Stanford research finds, Stanford study: South Africa could save millions of lives through HIV prevention and Changing the prevailing attitude about AIDS, gender and reproductive health in southern Africa 
Photo by Jon Rawlinson

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